Tongass initiative will lead to economic loss

Posted: Sunday, June 06, 2010

Last week, the Forest Service unveiled a proposal for the future of Southeast Alaska that does not include our timber industry.

The core theme from the administration's Tongass initiative is to create jobs while transitioning away from traditional growing and harvesting of timber. The proposed new jobs include cabin and trail maintenance, stream "restoration," thinning young-growth timber to encourage brush for wildlife and "decommissioning" the logging road system that has been built at great expense over the last 50 years. Meanwhile, the timber industry is supposed to retool so that they can harvest and process young-growth trees long before those trees have matured.

This plan will create a staggering economic loss. For instance, the only non-government funding mentioned is some nebulous lumber business that relies on very small logs, four to eight inches in diameter. It costs well over $5,000 per acre to thin most young-growth stands and it would take more than 3,000 acres of thinning each year to supply a single spaghetti-log mill. That's $15 million just to thin and deliver these logs to the mill each year!

These spindly logs would be worth roughly $3 million ($6 million if you use the Forest Services' optimistic estimate). That would create a huge loss for someone, and unlike traditional sawmills in our region, spaghetti-log mills are highly mechanized and provide only a handful of jobs.

I don't think the government has thought this through very well.

Owen Graham

Executive Director, Alaska Forest Association


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